14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The most-visited ceiba tree in Havana is no more. It was sick and yesterday, Tuesday, it was cut into pieces and removed from El Templete – a monument in Havana to the foundation of the original town in 1519 – by a brigade from the Puerto Carenas construction company of the Office of the Historian of Havana. The workers spent the morning on the task, helped by a crane that allowed them to move the largest pieces of the tree.
Curious neighbors watched the extraction of this symbol of Havana, a tree with deep meaning for the syncretic cults of African origin practiced in Cuba. There was no lack of prayers and bad omens among those who watched the felling of the tree. Among other reasons, because this ceiba, located at the site of the founding of the city, was associated in the popular imagination with the good luck and prosperity of the Cuban capital.
For more than five decades, the tree that was removed yesterday was the center of the supplications of many who would walk three times around its trunk on the anniversary of the founding of the city, 16 November. Tradition said that the circuits should be silent, touching the wood and then dropping a coin among its roots and at the end and making three wishes.
But for quite some time the cieba has shown signs of disease due to termites. It began to lose foliage months ago and its branches appeared dry. The grayness of the trunk also announced the end of a tree that, in nature, can have a much longer life.
The original ceiba was removed by a decision of General Captain Juan Manuel Cagigal y Martinez, who served between 1819 and 1821. The other trees that came later also appeared not to have experienced natural deaths. Diverse theories about the saltiness of the area contribute to hypotheses about the trees’ early demise.
A few steps from the Plaza de Armas, the recently removed ceiba was visited every day by hundreds of tourists and passers-by who, yesterday morning, were stunned by the removal of the imposing tree. The official newspaper Granma published a brief note Wednesday on the incident, but had previously not reported on the tree’s disease or slow decline.
A lady who works as a custodian in El Templete said yesterday that everyone who passed by wanted to take a piece of the ceiba home. She added that it was “an event” and “a lot of people were filming it and taking photos.” The woman also said that the tree that will be planted to replace it is already “in quarantine.”
Some of the curious said that the replacement should be planted quickly, because they cannot conceive of El Templete “without its ceiba.”